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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Kano Fails to Domestic Violence Laws, Rape Survivors Demand Justice

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Asiya (real name withheld) was nine years old when she was raped by a 20-year-old man last year in Nassarawa Local Government Area of Kano State. The rapist, Kamilu, was well known to the little girl as a frequent visitor to her parents’ house.

“I know him. He used to come and collect food from my mummy and he always called me to give me sweets and money,” Asiya told this reporter in the presence of her mother. “That day, he took me into an uncompleted building and removed my clothes. He started with his finger and then inserted his penis in my vagina. He warned me not to tell anyone, that if I did, he would kill me.”

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When the mother realised what had happened to her little daughter, she called her husband. The family immediately reported the incident to their community leaders and then the police. With the help of the officers, Asiya was taken to a hospital where tests showed that she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

The case was also reported to the Kano office of the National Human Rights Commission which ensured that Mr Kamilu was arraigned in court. But the judge ruled that the offence was sexual assault and not rape. So Mr Kamilu escaped with a slap on the wrist – he was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

Rape and the Law

Despite the signing of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act into law by the Nigerian government on 25 May 2015, rape remains one of the most common crimes in the country’s north-western states, particularly in Kano.

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The VAPP Act was meant to, among others, ensure due punishment for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and ensure justice for the victims. Unfortunately, Kano is the only Nigerian state yet to domesticate the law.

Halima Faruk of the state’s Sexual Referral Centre at a recent stakeholders’ forum, during the 16 days of Activism on the issue, said Kano has the highest rate of gender-based violence in the North-west region.

The VAPP Act outlaws and stipulates punishment for acts such as sexual abuse, domestic violence and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and forced marriage.

The Child Rights Act (CRA), a federal law, was earlier enacted in 2003 to protect the rights of children. Section 31 (1) and (2) of the CRA stipulates that any person who has sexual intercourse with a child commits an offence of rape and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.

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The CRA provides that it is immaterial that –

(a) the offender believed the person to be of or above the age of eighteen years; or(b) the sexual intercourse was with the consent of the child.

The CRA does not restrict victims of rape to the female gender and also recognises that rape can be committed by either a male or female. Therefore, under the two laws, boys and girls can be victims of rape.

However, just as it is yet to domesticate the VAPP Act, Kano is also yet to domesticate the CRA.

Mr Kamilu was tried under the Penal Code Act, a law applicable in the northern states of Nigeria.

Section 283 of the penal code stipulates that: “Rape is said to occur where a man has sexual intercourse with a woman in any of the following circumstances:

I. Against her will,ii. Without her consent,iii. With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her in fear of death or hurt,

iv. With her consent when the man knows that he is not her husband and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married,v. With or without her consent, when she is under fourteen years of age or of unsound mind.”

The law further states that if any of the above circumstances occur, rape has been committed and it provides imprisonment for life or any less term and or a fine as punishment.

Significantly, the penal code does not recognise men or boys as victims of rape and does not recognise marital rape where the woman has attained the age of puberty. Yet, young married women and young boys have been victims of rape in many reported cases in Kano State.

Kano’s Rape Scourge

The Director of Research, Planning and Statistics of the Kano State Ministry of Women, Children and Disabled Affairs, Yakubu Salihu, said his ministry is currently tackling about 300 rape cases and the survivors include young girls and boys.

Mr Salihu said in an interview with BUK FM, Kano, that the incidents mostly happened in the victims’ homes, neighbourhoods, and communities and on their way to school and were mostly perpetrated by the victims’ loved ones, relatives and also strangers.

Unlike Asiya who survived her ordeal, 17-year-old Saratu did not.

Saratu found out that she was pregnant five months after she was drugged and raped in her uncle’s house. According to her sister, Hadiza, Saratu told her family that she suspected Auwal, an adopted son in her uncle’s house, was the one who raped her. He had told her “he liked her and wanted to marry her” but she had turned his request down because she already had a suitor.

Hadiza said Saratu remembered that Auwal bought her a drink one night but she could not remember what happened after she took the drink.

When the family confronted Auwal, he denied it, so the family took the case to the Human Rights Commission, which sent the matter to court. The court ordered a DNA test and adjourned the matter until after Saratu had her baby. Hadiza said her sister received messages from an unknown number threatening her life if the family did not drop the case.

After Saratu was delivered of her baby, the DNA was conducted for the baby and the suspect, Auwal. But before the results were released, Saratu went missing. Her corpse was later discovered in a pond on their street. No suspect has been arrested for the crime. The baby is now with Hadiza, Saratu’s sister and the family does not know what else to do to ensure justice for the deceased.

In the course of the investigations for this report, Newslodgeinterviewed many rape victims, between the ages of four and 17, in the presence of their guardians. The victims were interviewed in Nassarawa, Tarauni and Dawakin Tofa local government areas of Kano State.

One of them, four-year-old Khadija (not her real name) was raped by a young man running a provision shop on their street. As in the case of Asiya, the rapist had also lured the child with sweets, as she narrated to our reporter in the presence of her mother.

The mother said she suspected Khadija had been raped after noticing a white discharge coming out from her vagina.

“I became curious and started asking her questions. That was when she told me what happened. I called my sister, and we took her to a hospital but they said they would not admit us because the case had to be recorded and handled by the Sexual Referral Centre first to check if she had injuries or complications before referring her to the hospital. At the centre, they called the police before conducting the test and the result said it was a severe infection.”

But the mother said she and her sister decided not to report the perpetrator to the police because of fear of stigma and that the suspect might hurt or kill the girl. This reporter made efforts to trace and speak with the suspect but he could not be found. Khadijah’s mother said he stopped coming to his shop and had not been seen in the community since the incident.

This reporter also tried to speak with Kamilu, the 20-year-old man who assaulted nine-year-old Asiya, but his family members denied access to him. His cousin, Musa Yau in Unguwan Nassarawa said: “We can’t allow him to be seen or heard in the media on an allegation that the court has already passed judgment.”

Six-year-old Abubakar Adamu (not real name) was sexually assaulted by a 17-year-old boy in the neighbourhood where he lives. The victim’s mother said the boy had severe stomach pains after the incident, which made them take the case to court through the police and the Human Rights Commission.

The perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of N25,000. He was also asked to pay N25,000 for the victim’s medication but since his release, he has not paid for Abubakar’s treatment.

Even more atrocious is the case of a 15-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by her father in her room in their house. She had a severe infection from the incident. She said he threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She later informed her aunt about it because her mother was dead, but the aunt pleaded with her to bury the issue so as not to tarnish her father’s image.

In the case of 13-year-old Zahra’u, she was raped and impregnated by a young man in her village in Dawakin Tofa. Since Zahra’u was delivered of a baby, she has been suffering from ill health. According to the lawyer handling the case, Badamasi Suleiman, her family tried to bury the case because of shame and stigma. But after she was put to bed and became unconscious, a family member reached out to him to take the case to the police and the court.

The court ordered the State Criminal Investigation Department at the Bompai Police Headquarters in Kano to investigate the matter. The investigation is still on.

Growing Public Concern

A community head in Nassarawa LGA, Bala Shehu, said the community frequently received complaints of rape. Mr Shehu noted that there are no sufficient laws to deal with the issue.

He said the state needs to introduce “new laws so that offenders will start serving proper punishment. I believe if the new law ensures punishment of the perpetrators, most of them will stop doing it.”

The Kano State Sexual Referral Centre (SARC), Waraka, was established by the state government to tackle issues of sexual assault in the state. The Protocol Officer at the Centre, Aminu Usman, said it receives about 100 cases in a month.

“It is (getting) out of hand. In a month we can receive 95-100 cases of rape. Currently, in this month, January, so far, we have received over 50 cases. Just last week, 17 cases were brought to us on a single day from one community that I cannot disclose because of confidentiality.”

Mr Usman agreed with Mr Shehu that cases are increasing because perpetrators are not being handed proper punishment. He estimated that 60 per cent of offenders escape justice and return to the community to continue their atrocities. He said the centre had been advocating for the VAPP Act to be domesticated in the state as the only way to mitigate SGBV in Kano.

Common Health Effects of Rape

Rape affects the victim physically, psychologically and sociologically, according to experts.

“Medical, surgical and psychological conditions are mostly the three complications rape victims always experience during and after the incidence,” Hassan Abubakar, who is a theatre nurse at the Sexual Referral Centre, explained.

“Medical complications and conditions are the worst because there are diseases that can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. The sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) include HIV/Aids, Hepatitis, Gonorrhea and Syphilis. These kinds of diseases can cause a lot of problems and even death.

“The scary part is that the victim might not know if she contracted any of these diseases unless she is taken to a hospital on time for a test until the victim starts to exhibit signs and symptoms. A victim may become pregnant too, which brings a whole lot of different repercussions.

“For surgical conditions, it may warrant carrying out surgery for the victims. The incident may result in the victim having complications such as fistula, vascular vaginal fistula, a slit/vaginal cut or abnormal communication between the urinary bladder and the vagina, that is abnormal leakage of urine, and this may lead her to get severe infection unless the condition is treated immediately.

“Some victims may also lose their lives. And for victims that were assaulted through anal sex, they may experience complications such as faeces leakage and this needs surgical intervention to be treated.”

Mr Abubakar said psychological complications experienced by the victims may include “depression, trauma and worry over whether she might get someone that will marry her and issues like that.”

He said some victims do not fully express themselves to medical personnel because of fear and stigma. He urged the state authorities to domesticate the VAPP Act to curtail the menace of sexual assault and ensure justice for the victims.

Police, Human Rights Commission Helpless

How are the police handling the increasing trend of rape cases? According to the spokesperson of the police in Kano State, Abdullahi Kiyawa, there is a Gender Desk at the police headquarters that handles SGBV cases.

“Yes, we do have a Gender Desk at the police headquarters and we treat such cases diligently and professionally by taking the victim’s statements, carrying out our investigations and taking the victims and culprits to court for prosecution.”

However, Mr Kiyawa said the police had not noticed an increase in rape cases in Kano, though he could not provide the number of cases handled by the police in the state.

The State Coordinator of NHRC, Abdullahi Shehu, said the agency responds promptly to rape and other cases of sexual assault.

“We work diligently alongside relevant stakeholders, including the law enforcement agencies, particularly the Nigerian police,” Mr Shehu said. “Anytime we receive such a call on a rape case, especially if it is in a rural area, we would tell them to go to the nearest police station to report the case and then we will call and speak to the officer on the desk and tell him about the situation and will take the report. The reason we do this is to ensure that all evidence is intact so that the offender will not have a reason to lie or deny what he did.”

“After the police report, we take an appropriate step in bringing justice to the victims by arraigning the suspects. An investigation will be conducted and the case will go to the court of jurisdiction for prosecution.”

He said the commission follows the cases to ensure that justice is done. However, there are insufficient laws to tackle rape in Kano, he said.

“We put a lot of effort in such cases but our challenge now is the issue of not domesticating the VAPP Act. You know when there is a legal framework, it will assist in the promotion of justice,” Mr Shehu said.

Also, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Kano State chapter, said it is putting more effort into fighting against SGBV through advocacy programmes and ensuring that offenders face the consequences of their crimes.

A Senior Magistrate at the Kano State Judiciary and Vice Chairperson of FIDA, Hajara Hamza, said rape has become a worrisome issue in Kano State.

She said the existing laws do not directly render significant help to rape victims because there is a gap in the legal framework.

She said the federal VAPP Act is the only law that contains all the necessary provisions for the punishment of the offenders, adding that its domestication is the best way to eliminate or mitigate the incidence of rape and other sexual assault cases in the state.

Kano State Government on SGBV

Meanwhile, the Kano Ministry of Women, Children and Disabled Affairs said it has been working towards dealing with the issue of SGBV and creating a safer environment for both girls and boys.

According to Yakubu Salihu, the Director of Planning Research and Statistics in the ministry, who spoke for the commissioner, the state government is aware of the increasing incidence of rape.

“We do receive cases of GBV incidents from SARC and the report includes all forms of abuses from different local governments. Currently, we have recorded 300 rape cases, and it is because of the increasing incidence that the government is making more effort to establish additional sexual referral centres across the three emirate councils while the Rano LGA is awaiting equipping.”

He suggested that the Kano State government was working towards putting in place a tougher law against SGBV.

“We have put a multi-sectoral responsive and preventive mechanism in place. We also advocated to the Kano Ministry of Justice to revisit the draft copy of the harmonized state VAPP Bill with the review of the Kano Penal Code. The review of the referral mechanism is awaiting validation soon,” he said.

When asked about the kind of help the ministry renders to rape victims, Mr Salihu said they offer psycho-social support and empowerment services.

However, Mr Salihu said, domesticating the VAPP Act has been the major challenge to addressing SGBV. He said the lack of political will was the reason the national law had not been domesticated.

Are Current Efforts Enough?

The various organisations working towards eliminating SGBV in Kano pointed out that the efforts put in place by the state government are not enough to check rape and other forms of sexual abuse.

The Centre for Awareness on Justice and Accountability (CAJA), an NGO working around public awareness on the dangers of SGBV, said it has done a lot of advocacy and enlightenment programmes to educate the public and young girls on the dangers of the menace and how to go about it.

Akibu Hamisu, the Programme Officer of CAJA, said they have done a series of advocacies and sensitization programmes for girls and the general public on the issue, but that alone is not enough unless relevant laws are put in place.

He said the government needs to put in more effort by domesticating and implementing the VAPP Act and Child Protection Act in the state, adding that “only that can solve the problem and reduce the menace, thereby creating a safe environment for our wards and sons.”

The Centre for Information Technology and Development advocates the use of technology to tackle SGBV in Kano.

“As part of our initiatives to eliminate SGBV in Kano, we created,

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